The Best-Laid Plans

 

Growing up, my family didn’t take regular vacations.  Still, I’ve been to Puerto Rico, Kauai, the Philippines, Vancouver, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and plenty of places in/around the Bay Area where I was reared.  Since graduating from college, I’ve never really felt like I’ve been in a financial latitude, personally and as far as my family was concerned, to take a trip anywhere.  Back in 2007, when I graduated from high school, my dad lost his job and we eventually lost our home.  Ever since, his employment status has been a moving target and, well, vacations just don’t make sense when you’re wondering if you’ll be able to make rent on the place you reside in day to day.

Fast forward to mid-2015 and I’ve started what I guess I could consider my first “real job” – a salaried position, full benefits, business cards.  Boy oh boy 😉  My parents are also working and we’re all in a position to begin to actually save money and plan something beyond a paycheck to paycheck existence.

Earlier this year, I remember talking to a number of coworkers and friends about travelling.  I was in awe at the destinations they were considering – Thailand.  Cambodia.  Vietnam.  South Korea.  Brussels.  The Netherlands.  At the conclusion of these conversations, I always ended up questioning what the heck I was doing as an unattached, healthy woman in her late 20s by staying put, squandering the opportunities to head off someplace.  After some thought, I eventually set my sights on Ireland – predominantly English speaking country, European, gorgeous scenery, lots of historical churches, birthplace of my current celebrity crush (Andrew Scott – Moriarty forever!!).

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*swoon*

In no time at all, an itinerary was born –

3 weeks.  SFO -> DUB

Rock of Cashel.  Blarney Castle.  Cork.  Ring of Kerry.  Skellig Michael.  Dingle.  Limerick.  Cliffs of Moher.  Doolin.  Inis Mor.  Dun Aenghus.  Galway.  Croagh Patrick.  Strandhill.  Enniskillen.  Derry.  Giants Causeway.  Dunluce Castle.  Carrick A-Rede.  The Dark Hedges.  Belfast.  Tollymore National Tower.  Strokestown Park & National Famine Museum.  Bru na Boinne.

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Puffins on Skellig Michael. PUFFINS!!!

I scoured blogs, YouTube, Google Flights, Hopper, and TripAdvisor, to hammer out the finer points of booking flights, renting a car vs. public transportation, the best bed & breakfasts with proper Irish breakfasts, and pub etiquette.

And then in August, my dad drops me off at work and tells me that the following week would be his last; the company was laying people off.

I really wish I could say I met this announcement with grace, rallying around my dad with encouragement and support, but the truth is that I became quite antagonistic, very short-tempered and rude to him and the rest of my family members in general.  As the idol of my own life-plans took a hit, I rounded on them fiercely and lashed out in my anger and disappointment.

In the weeks that followed, I stewed in my resentment toward them, the situation, and God.  Can’t You just let me have my way?  Why do other people get to go places?  Is one trip too much to ask?  One small hiccup and the very goodness and generosity of God Almighty was, to me, up for questioning and doubting.

I tried my hardest not to pray or read the Bible, too.  I did not want to self-reflect, self-examine because the reality of my heart’s desires were there front and center.  The true lord of my life was revealed and I didn’t want to stare back at a grotesque image of myself, utterly consumed and focused in on what wanted, what deemed best, when, and the manner in which saw fit.  I didn’t want to acknowledge how deeply I was drowning in the lies of what a fulfilling, meaningful life really consisted of.  I didn’t want to admit how I doubted that knowing and enjoying God, and glorifying Him forever, would be truly satisfying.

In time, though, God showed me more and more how the circumstances He allowed were a demonstration, and not a lack, of His goodness, and how unrelenting His love is for me.  In the midst of me growing more attached, in love with, and reliant on money and leisure, He showed me how easily they crumble, how the treasures here on Earth can be taken, how they will grow dull and fail under the weight of importance I ignorantly place on them.  When I want to shortsightedly settle on the here and now, on building castles of sand, He sends the waves to topple them so that I might look up and away at the eternity He beckons me into.  He anchors me in reality and directs my attention at those who still live in darkness and the shadow of death; He bids me look at the great harvest in which He would send me out into if only I paid attention, if only I cared more for the eternal state of souls than my own passing pleasures and mere distractions.

A month or so ago, God brought James 4:13-17 to mind –

“Boasting About Tomorrow

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

It’s still hard for me to recognize how fleeting and fragile my time here on Earth is.  It’s not natural for me to believe that I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and that I can’t make plans and accomplish them entirely on my own.  And truthfully, I find it more than a little galling, this posture of capitulation to the Lord and what He wills.  I can’t even bring myself to imagine saying “If the Lord wills” in regular conversation, even among many Christians.

But the reality is that I am no longer my own.

Christ has saved me; He is Lord and the acknowledgement of this in word and practice day by day is sweeter and more secure than all my best-laid plans, it is the best way, period.

My dad has since received an offer letter for another company and with the sense of gratitude and relief is some trepidation – I know I can be lulled back into a false sense of security in money, and that my attention and heart can turn once again to making my own plans, ignoring the Lord’s will and ways.  to this I echo the words of an old hymn as a prayer –

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.  // Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.  // Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

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Thriller

My parents love to reminisce about how I would, as a little girl, run out of the room whenever the music video to Michael Jackson’s Thriller would come on.  As an adult, I find it inconceivable that I would have ignored such amazing choreography and MJ’s vocal stylings, haha, but I guess that little-me could only focus on the ashen faces and tattered clothes of zombies that couldn’t hold a candle to the ones found on The Walking Dead.  Instead of eliciting fear, this music video now draws out laughter and excitement.  I’ve tried to learn to play this iconic song on the piano, and have come thisclose to putting “Dancing in a Thiller flash mob” on the bucket list in my mind.  Thriller is one of those songs that manages to get everyone, no matter how self-conscious, on the dance floor.  Needless to say, I’m so glad that my initial fears did not become my final stance/response or else I’d really be missing out on having “the soul for getting down.”

It recently occurred to me, though, that even though I am older, I can still give up and miss out on many potential joys when I choose to succumb to, and steep myself in, present fear and pain.

Switching gears a little, imagine that you are the successful owner of a business and have a beautiful family with grown children and a spouse with whom you can share life and grow old with.  One day, though, you receive news that successive waves of vicious people have abruptly and ruthlessly taken away every last piece of inventory you owned, and the authorities are powerless to recoup your losses.  Soon after, you are told that all of your precious children have perished after a storm destroyed the place they had all gathered to eat together in.  And after all of that, you yourself fall ill, and your spouse, caught up in the anguish within their own heart, can no longer speak peaceably to you.

Could you imagine that?  Can you believe that all of that happened to a man named Job?  That all of those aforementioned tragedies came upon him within the span of two chapters?  The Book of Job has not always been a source of comfort to me.  Before I was saved, I used to think it stood as perfect proof that the God of the Bible was unspeakably cruel and clearly unloving.  And even now that I have been walking with the Lord for a few years, I still don’t think I have come to make sense of it all.  But even though I don’t yet fully comprehend everything, I can’t deny that God has been opening it up to me and using it to minister to me in profound ways.

Earlier this month, I found myself in Job, and one verse in particular stood out to me.  To set the scene, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, three of Job’s friends, had gathered to comfort him.  After seven days and nights of mourning, Job speaks straight from his pain, curses the day of his birth, and at one point says:

“For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.” – Job 3:25 (NKJV)

When my now ex-boyfriend and I first came onboard at SRVGC (church), we held a couple of GYYL (Grill Your Youth Leader) sessions.  We passed out index cards and pens to the youth and told them to write down any questions they had for us.  In retrospect, this was probably a real rookie mistake, lol, but we (mercifully) received a range of solid questions.

I’m not sure if you can see it, but the last question on the bottom card written in blue ink is: “What is your greatest fear?”

I can remember telling them that I feared being alone.

This garnered a chorus of “aww’s” from the group, and I was confused until I realized that they thought I meant being alone… as in without my boyfriend.  While I certainly did care very deeply for him, I said what I said with a different relationship in mind – my relationship with God.

Now I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38-39), but sometimes I still allow myself to doubt that, and that’s usually when I really begin to crumble and fall apart.  What I’d like to highlight in this post, though, is that as far as I know, God has taken me to a place in my walk with Him where the thing I fear the most, is something that ultimately can never come to pass.  Let me try to explain what I mean.

This thought was something that dawned on me when I let Job 3:25 really sink in.  Three chapters into his story, Job proclaims that everything he most feared in life has come upon him.  I’d say that he was absolutely justified in saying so.  I then started to think about the circumstances that had unfolded in my own life in the past couple of months – being dumped, stepping up as the Youth Director after my ex stepped down and left the church, having my boss go into early retirement, changing jobs, being the only young adult at my church.  Lord Almighty.  I had never asked to be a leader.  I had never asked to be, in some senses, abandoned.  I didn’t ask to feel these feelings of rejection and worthlessness, confusion and helplessness, all while needing to be strong and purposeful before my youth group and church family.

But as the hurt and anxiety began to rise up in me, along with the temptation to despair, it was as if the Holy Spirit asked me: “Iona, don’t you know how Job’s story ends?”

“Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.  He also had seven sons and three daughters.  […]  After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations.  So Job died, old and full of days.” – Job 42:12-13, 16-17 (NKJV)

Everything Job feared had come upon him, but that wasn’t where his story ended.  As I sat there with The Word, God was, in that moment, reminding me that my current pain was just that, something present in this moment, but something that would not last.  And even if I were to suffer all my life long, my ultimate destiny is an eternity in Heaven with Him.

Rewinding a little, if you’re anything like me, the whole reason you fear certain things is because you believe that if they happen, something – an opportunity, your whole life – will be shattered beyond repair.  That you will be, somehow – emotionally, mentally, physically – broken beyond redemption.

In his 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton wrote: “The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer. Because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”

Like I said before, I used to hold a really warped view of God as someone who just toyed with us human beings, who took perverse pleasure in allowing us to experience painful situations. Now, though, I am beginning to see something else.  Far from seeing the act of allowing me to experience trials as being cruel and unusual punishment from a capricious deity, I see it as an act of love from my Father in Heaven, the one true God who sent His only Son to die to not only set me free from sin, but from all the, as Merton put it, “smaller and more insignificant things” that I fear.  Jesus sets me free from, as Job put it, the things I most fear and dread.  When I find myself right in the middle of something I feared, and realize that I can still not only survive but thrive because of the mercy of my God, my heart rejoices.  It is in those moments that I come to know deep in my soul that those things I fear cannot break me beyond repair or redemption; my sovereign Savior is the One who defeated death itself and rose from the grave in glory.

I think the Apostle Paul put it best when he said:

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned that in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13 (NKJV).

Am I trying to say that I walk around not fear anything?  No.  This is definitely a lesson God has had to keep reminding me of, but I know that I am quicker to trust more fully in Him each time trials come.  I am more willing to turn immediately to Him and to reject refuge from lesser things.  I believe I experience more deeply the peace and assurance that are my blood bought birthright.

Dear brothers and sisters, are you finding yourself in an overwhelming situation?  Have the things you feared come upon you?  Resist the urge to run away from God and to someone/something else.  Resist the urge to retreat into your own self.  Pour out your heart to Him; He alone saves.  Reach out to your family in the faith and allow them to shoulder your burdens with you.  Be encouraged.  Wait upon God and watch Him move powerfully in your life.  These circumstances and the pain that you feel are not how your story ends.  Cling to God, allow Him to grow your faith, and be set free from your fears.

Hello Again

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

I am not big on “signs,” but when I opened my daily K-LOVE Encouraging Word email on Wednesday, December 31, 2014, and saw the passage that inspired me to create this blog, I smiled.

Ok, God, ok.

I will not let 2015 fly by.  I will savor every moment.  Whether I’m in the valley of the shadow of death, or catching my breath on a mountaintop.  I will make time to ponder, to patiently listen to Your instruction, to passionately obey.

“Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

Thank you,  Lord, for everything.  Everything.

Belonging [Part 2]

Part One is HERE

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So where were we?  Ah, that’s right… Scripture.  Finally!  🙂

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named […]” – Ephesians 3:14-15

As I prepared for last Thursday’s study, I decided to finally utilize the Greek & Hebrew Bible app that my friend, Sherri, had told me about.  I had seen her use it on multiple occasions as she led the Women’s Fellowship in a study of Genesis, and because I gleaned so much from knowing more about the words used in a particular passage, I was inspired and curious to see what that kind of word study would do in Ephesians.

Father

Father

From those two verses, I honed in on “Father” and “family.”

No big surprise there, right?  With everything going on with my family, they are always on my mind.

But the Apostle Paul was a single, childless, adult male.  Why would he use those words?

The study Bible that I have notes that in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul was addressing a group of believers who were living as spiritual paupers because they did not know the full riches they had in Christ.  But why and what didn’t they know?

I think Ephesians 2:11-22 gives us a clue; here’s an excerpt from verses 11 to 13:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. ” – Ephesians 2:11-13

For someone like me in the 21st century, the distinction between Jew and Gentile doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  But to the Gentile believers that Paul was addressing, it was.  From birth, they probably knew who they were, or more importantly who they weren’t, in relation to God’s chosen people, the Jews.  There must have been some sense of alienation and of being outcasts deeply ingrained in their thoughts and feelings.

Family

Family

Which is why when Paul spoke of unity so intimately in the way that he addressed them as part of one family, one body in Christ, it must have been a truly life-altering mental shift.  What he was proclaiming was radical; the implications were huge.  Centuries old divisions and hierarchies were being struck down in Christ.

The Greek & Hebrew Bible app noted 2 other instances in the New Testament where that particular form of the word “family” is used:

1) Luke 2:4 – “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David.”

2) Acts 3:25 – “You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘In your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed.”

Of David.  Of Abraham.

But while Gentile believers had been living their lives apart from the Jewish people who were of that human bloodline, Paul was now affirming that Christ’s death on the cross had made them part of God’s own family.  They belonged to God’s family because Christ had paid for their sins, His righteousness was bestowed upon them, and now they “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” – Ephesians 2:13.  And that was not an identity that could be shaken or denied them by anything or anyone.

***

My Daddy & Me (early 90s)

My Daddy & Me (early 90s)

If you’ve grown up going to church/in the church, you’ve heard the phrase “family in Christ” tossed around a lot.  But if you take a second to stop and think about what it really means and looks like in your mind, what do you see?  Who do you see?

And another question… do you belong?

Not do you feel like you belong.  But do YOU belong?

From what I shared in the previous post, I carried pretty large wounds and chips on my shoulder towards those who called themselves Christians.  But according to this passage, and many others, there was no need for me to feel that way.

I do believe that hurt is a natural and valid reaction to being othered, but to carry a grudge?  No.  I’ve come to realize that I didn’t have to, and that I don’t have to.  You see, the only reason I felt that way was because I was giving others the ability to tell me my identity and to decide whether or not I belonged in God’s family, when He had already affirmed me in His Son as His daughter.

I can bypass the inner turmoil of always waiting to see if I’m going to be accepted, and for how long, because I claim the fact that I belong because I am a forgiven sinner and a child of God.  That is my only identity and in Christ, I not only have a place in Heaven for me, but wherever God calls me now, I have, as one of my sisters in Christ likes to put it, “a place at the table” – whether others recognize and/or grant me that space or not.

Now, this doesn’t mean I get to figuratively or literally bust through doors and shove it in others’ faces.  No.  I can come boldly, but in humility, or else God will certainly have something to say about the pride and hatred in my heart.

Celebrating Daddy's Birthday (mid-90s)

Celebrating Daddy’s Birthday (mid-90s)

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Lastly, if you look through some of the pictures that I’ve posted around this blog, you’ll probably notice that I look Asian (I’m Filipino), but that my Dad is… most decidedly not, lol.  If you think so, then you’re right.  He is African-American.  The larger story behind this happy circumstance will definitely be something to post on later, but I will say that even if he isn’t my biological father, he has shown me all the love any father could ever show his daughter.  I’ve been blessed to have been given such unconditional love from another human being in the role of an earthly father to me.

But it is an entirely different thing on a whole ‘nother level to know the endless love of our Father in Heaven.  I pray that we can come to know and accept that, and stand secure in who we are, and what we have, in Him.